Despite receiving planning approval from Lambeth Council and the Mayor of London in 2007, objections relating to the size of the tower, the lack of affordable housing and the impacts on the views of London from St James’s Park and Somerset House were lodged by English Heritage and Westminster Council.
Following a public inquiry in March Secretary of State Hazel Blears issued an approval yesterday. Taking into account the high quality design of the building and technical virtuosity, Blears concluded that the delicate balance between landscape and buildings would not be seriously damaged by the appearance of the Doon Street tower despite agreeing that the proposed development fails to preserve a setting appropriate to Somerset House. However, she considered that the harm is somewhat mitigated by the non-visibility of the tower from the courtyard, and the variation in its visibility from the terrace, as well as by the fact that other more intrusive buildings are visible above the north range.
With regards to not providing affordable housing it was concluded that the inclusion of a sports centre and swimming pool at no public cost negated this necessity and that the increase in resident population would assist in local regeneration.
English Heritage are appalled by the decision stating: “The Secretary of State has not only overturned the advice of English Heritage as her expert advisors, but she has also chosen to decline the opinion of an independent Inspector. English Heritage finds it incomprehensible that her reason for doing so was because she considered that community benefits outweigh harm to the historic environment as though one must be at the sacrifice of the other. There are alternative options that would have provided the same community benefits but would have been more sensitive, without causing serious damage to historic buildings spaces and views. Obviously we do not consider this matter closed and we are considering our next steps and the options open to us.”
The decision is now subject to a six weeks period when appeals can be made to the High Court to overturn the decision. To be successful any appeal would have to show that the Secretary of State had not followed the proper legal process rather than on the merits of the case.